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A letter of reprimand is a US Department of Defense procedure involving a letter to an employee or soldier from the superior that details the wrongful actions of the person and the punishment that can be expected. A Formal Letter of Reprimand is one in which a copy of the letter is kept on record.

In military contexts, a formal letter of reprimand can be career-ending,[1] even without prescribed punishments, because it makes it difficult to secure advancements in rank or to enjoy the respect of one's peers.

In legal contexts, a letter of reprimand is sometimes called a letter of admonition. It is the lowest form of attorney discipline under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The Manual for Court Martial, R.C.M. 306(c)(2), states:

Administrative action. A commander may take or initiate administrative action, in addition to or instead of other action [e.g., non-judicial punishment (Article 15 or "NJP") and court-martial] taken under this rule, subject to regulations of the Secretary concerned. Administrative actions include corrective measures such as counseling, admonition, reprimand, exhortation, disapproval, criticism, censure, reproach, rebuke, extra military instruction, or the administrative withholding of privileges, or any combination of the above.

The order of severity for formal written administrative action is:

  • a letter of counsel (least severe)
  • a memorandum of concern
  • a letter of admonishment
  • a letter of reprimand.

A letter of reprimand may be issued in lieu of punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A formal letter of reprimand is placed in the service member's permanent personnel record. In the Dept. of the Navy, a reprimand can only be given as a result of non-judicial punishment or a court-martial conviction.


In July of 1945, after delivering the atomic bomb to Tinian, the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was torpedoed in the middle of the Philippine Sea. When the ship was sunk, most of the crew were stranded at sea for 5 days where they staved off shark attacks, dehydration, and thirst. The crew was rescued after 5 days and being spotted by an airplane. In the aftermath of the disaster, some naval officers in Leyte, Philippines, were given letters of reprimand, due to their failures to note that the ship was missing, when it didn't arrive on schedule. The Captain of the ship, Charles Butler McVay III was also originally given a letter of reprimand before being controversially court-martialed.

On September 25, 2008, the Department of Defense announced that six US Air Force and two US Army generals and nine colonels had received letters of reprimand, admonishment, or concern because of the mishandling of fuses for nuclear weapons, which were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan. Two Air Force major generals were asked to stay in their current position; the others either retired, planned to retire, or were removed from their position. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz met with each officer personally before issuing the letters. He noted they committed no offense under the UCMJ but "did not do enough to carry out their leadership responsibilities for nuclear oversight. For that they must be held accountable."[2]


  1. ^ Zuchino, David (May 29, 2010). "U.S. report faults drone crew, command posts in Afghan civilian deaths". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  2. ^ The Associated Press. "Military cites poor oversight in mistaken shipment of warheads to Taiwan." MSNBC, Sept. 25, 2008,; accessed 2008-09-26.